In the early 90s, when Jayalalithaa became the first elected female chief minister of Tamil Nadu, she gave an impression that she was someone who was not easy to fool. And with no close family spoiling and squabbling for the riches, many felt that she would put Tamil Nadu on the 'fast track' - a management jargon fashionable at that time.
In the intervening years, Jayalalithaa, essentially a loner who kept to her work and books, also opened up to Sasikala Natarajan, who ran a video parlour, while husband Natarajan worked as a PRO in the state government.
It is now old news that by 1988 Sasikala had moved into Jayalalithaa’s Poes Garden residence and emerged as an alternate power centre. During these years, Jayalalithaa has twice expelled Sasikala from her home, and instructed the party cadre not to have any truck with Sasikala and her extended family.
Sasikala & Co reportedly interfered in everything and misused their political clout brought on by the proximity to Jayalalithaa.
Veteran political analysts have always maintained that Jayalalithaa is well read, can grasp the nuances of science and technology; and is eminently capable of delivering good governance. And, she can (and quite likely will) play a bigger role in national politics. Above all, Jayalalithaa is not an easy person to fool. Something the Sasikala family is alleged to have done, not once, but twice.
After all, Sasikla has been sent out of Poes Garden during times of both humiliating defeat and thumping victory for the AIADMK - in 1996 and 2011 respectively. Unlike the 1996 expulsion when Sasikala was accused of nepotism, the conspiracy theories in 2011 were straight out of a mega television serial.
The most startling one of them all was the allegation that Jayalalithaa was being slowly poisoned by her; others included old ones - like the Sasikala's family interfering in official postings and demanding huge kickbacks for permitting new projects. Reports also said the intelligence wing had unearthed a conspiracy by the clan to seize power in case Jayalalithaa was found guilty in the on-going disproportionate wealth case in Bangalore. (Jayalalithaa and Sasikala are the co-accused in the Rs 66 crore assets case.)
Reports claimed that Jayalalithaa was unaware of what the Mannargudi family was upto, and none dared speak against Sasikala who called herself as the ‘younger sister.’ Finally, the cat was belled by political analyst 'Cho' Ramaswamy and Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi. And Jayalalithaa acted.
Sasikala and 14 others in her family were expelled. Close on the heels of the expulsion came the arrest of Sasikala's husband Natarajan, brother Divakaran and cousin Ravanan among others.
Later Jayalalithaa even reiterated at the general Council meeting of the AIADMK that the expulsion of 'betrayers of the party' was a final one. Many AIADMK cadre rejoiced. But quite a few observers took it all with a huge pinch of salt. Political analyst S Murari went so far as to say, "You are insulting Jayalalithaa's intelligence," when events unfolded in December.
As things turned out, a few months later on March 31, Sasikala was granted a reprieve by Jayalalithaa, after a tearful plea by Sasikala on a television show, where Sasikala claimed that she did not know what her family was up to.
Within a couple of days Jayalalithaa said the explanation was satisfactory, and the prodigal sister was back in the fold. Sasikala also disowned her family for whatever they are supposed to have done behind her back.
The revoking of the expulsion has not come as a surprise to many. But the devil is in the details, says political analyst, Gnani. "When someone is expelled on charges of interfering with the government, there should be a thorough probe. There are so many questions now: Who interfered? What was the modus operandi of that person? How was it encouraged? And how does Jayalalithaa plan to avoid such things in future? Right now everything is opaque, and unless Jayalalithaa comes out in the open, there will be a feeling that the people of Tamil Nadu were hoodwinked," he feels.
Others, like political analyst S Murari, say this step will have an impact on Jayalalithaa's political career in the long run.
Murari, was cynical of the conspiracy theories when they surfaced in December. Nor does he subscribe to the theory that it was staged because of apprehensions over the disproportionate assets case.
So, why this kolaveri then? What will be the impact?
"The rapprochement has come at a time when Jayalalithaa was reaching out to national politics. This pardon will be a huge set back for her. Even if Tamilians overlook this episode, her image on the national grid will take a beating . In the long run Sasikala will bring her down," feels Murari.
Only time can tell if the pardon turns out to be the proverbial monkey on the politician's shoulder.
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